I have found somebody to start my hike with. We haven't met in person, but we connected on www.whiteblaze.net and we're keeping our options open. We'll start at the same time and see how it goes. We will soon find out if we have anything in common, or if we have even remotely similar hiking speeds and styles. We may hike separately while planning to meet for breaks at certain places or at least camp at the same place at night. That way we know that if something happened to either of us, somebody else knows you're supposed to be at a certain spot and can get help if needed. That should get us through the first thirty miles to Neel's Gap where the AT runs right under an arch and basically through a split building. After that we can decide whether to continue together, or find new groups that fit better. I feel better knowing somebody will be keeping an eye out for me, and my family and friends seem greatly relieved, so if it makes them feel better about my plans then it's an additional benefit. I also make sure to tell them about the bear spray (1/2oz) I’ll be carrying.
Neel's Gap is the place where the staff at the hostel/gear outfitter will do a "shakedown" of your backpack and gear, if you want. I want. But it is a little intimidating to think that not only will I willingly let somebody go through every single thing I brought, but they'll tell me why I shouldn't have brought it and maybe suggest a better option. The better option can obviously cost money, so my goal is to be as ruthless with my gear as I can stand before I actually get there. That's another reason for my extensive online research regarding weight, size, utility and durability of everything I'm purchasing. If it can do more than one thing a piece of gear is even more valuable.
I will not be that person who brings a cast iron pan or an electric coffee pot but there are two areas I think I'll have trouble. I am bringing two pounds of camera and gear for it. That may not sound like much, but when your entire pack weight goal is 25-35 pounds including food and water, every ounce counts, never mind extra pounds. However, since at least 50% of my motivation for going on this adventure is photography, the camera is a priority to me. I'm not willing to take some point and shoot camera out on the greatest adventure of my life (so far). I want good pictures! I want to maybe make a book out of them when I'm done. I'm studying photography now so I can get better at it and make it worthwhile to carry those extra two pounds.
The other area I really need to work for me is sleeping. I'm a picky sleeper. I can't sleep if somebody snores or if there are lights, TV, or other noises (like BEARS!). I'll be bringing earplugs and maybe camping away from shelters for all those reasons. I may even bring my eye mask. These things will come in handy at hotels and hostels in towns as well. I also sleep cold, so I'm planning to get a 15 degree sleeping bag, and I need a soft bed, so I want to get a specific insulated, inflatable sleeping mat. It's an Exped Downmat 7 that I really want and it weighs two pounds as well. Yikes! But if it works well to keep me warm and sleeping well, I'm willing to take the weight. Others will probably call these luxuries, but the camera is a priority to me, and if I don’t sleep well I get grumpy and weepy and just become an emotional wreck and so it’s possible that if I wasn’t sleeping well it could negatively affect my hike or whether I finish my hike. Of course, if I carry too much weight it may have the same effect of ending my hike due to injury or taking too long or just being miserable while hiking. I will have to save that weight elsewhere in my gear, or maybe if I lose an extra four pounds I can justify carrying these four pounds.
Hey, I lost four pounds! Woo hoo! I weighed 216 pounds this morning, despite eating cupcakes, fried foods, carbs and alcohol at my work holiday party. Who starts trying to lose weight in December anyway? That's just ridiculous, yet I've actually made some progress, so I still have motivation to not give it up. I also have $3 left to get me to payday and don't have much food. I could go into overdraft, but I'm not going to do it. I can make this work. So, when they offered leftovers from the party, I took the free food. Not good, healthy food, but free. Have you ever tried to eat healthy on a budget? It costs much more money to eat healthy than to eat junk. Look at cheap ramen, cheap double cheeseburgers at McDonalds, and so on. It's all terrible for you, but it fills your belly cheaper than fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein. This is why poor people are obese, in my opinion.
In other news, I found a bear-proof food bag, called an Ursack that only weighs about eight ounces instead of a two and a half pound bear vault. Phew! Saved two pounds there, though I still may need to hang it, or guard it, because if a bear works at it long enough it can pulverize all my food inside and I still have nothing to eat.
I am being very strict with my finances lately, because I have to shell out so much money to not only buy gear, but I'm paying to get my photographs printed, matted, and framed for my show on January 6th. My profit from the show will pay for my hike, but if I don't sell those pictures, well, I'm out that money that could have gone towards my hike. I've had this show booked for almost two years, though, before I decided to go on this hike, so I'm just hoping I sell all of the framed pictures and get orders for even more. I'm going to redo my photography website, and then I'll post it on here, and on Facebook and to my friends and family. That way, people can buy straight from the website, even while I'm gone hiking, and maybe I can make money while I walk. Wouldn’t that be something?